Using the NLP principles 1: The Map Is Not The Territory

The map is not the territory NLP illustration
image by Robert Proska at

The useful thing about the principles or ‘presuppositions‘ of NLP is that you can use them to make your life better without any formal training or skills in NLP.

Obviously you will get even better results if you do get some training and develop some skills, but acting ‘as if’ the principles are true will still help you. This is because the principles are an attitude and a way of looking at the world which you can regard as a set of instructions for success.

I’ve gone into detail about the presuppositions of NLP and what they mean elsewhere in the blog. This new series of articles is about how you can put these principles into practical use to empower yourself and bring more ease and grace into how you deal with life, work and other people.

This article is about how you can apply the principle that ‘The Map Is Not the Territory‘ to understand and influence other people better, and also about how you can start making your own ‘map of the world’ richer and more useful. It’s worth reading the main article about mental filters, or listening to the ‘Map Is Not The Territory’ podcast, before you try these practical exercises.

1. See other people’s point of view

When you have a disagreement with someone, or you just don’t understand why they have done something, put yourself in their shoes and look at the world, and yourself, from their point of view. Aim to adopt their map rather than just thinking ‘What would I do in that situation?’ You will get better-quality information if you match their ‘physiology’ (the term often used in NLP for general stance and body language) – so to match someone’s physiology, stand as they stand, breathe as they breathe and so on.

To avoid the cognitive error of ‘mind-reading’, which is where people talk and act as if they know for sure what someone else is thinking or feeling, remember that the intuitions you get from this exercise are just a guess about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Always check out your intuitions against what the person actually does.

2. To influence someone, start from their map of the world

Don’t expect them to jump to your map. Why would anyone want to do that? Instead, start from a position which makes sense to them and is compatible with their values and beliefs, and build bridges to where you want the person to get to.

Think of someone you have been trying to influence or change their mind, without much success so far. Which of their values or beliefs could have been getting in the way of the change you want them to make? And which of their values or beliefs might help move them towards where you want them to be?

3. Explore the boundaries of your map

Where are the limits of your map? What do you feel you can’t do, or that you don’t deserve? The areas in your life that are not going as well as you would like may indicate that your map could do with some tweaks. So:

a) where you have a belief that is holding you back or not serving you – like some people stop themselves from exercising because they believe they are no good at sport – actively look for examples where that belief is not true

b) where you tend to make generalisations, actively look for counter-examples. There are always going to be exceptions to any generalisation… including this one.

c) when you think you can’t do something that you would like to do, ask yourself “What would happen if I did?”

© 2012 – 2020, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.


  1. Hiten

    Hi Andy,

    This was a great post, with some excellent advice.

    I too have found both in personal and professional settings that my interactions with others have always been better, when I’ve first made the effort to look at the world through their eyes, as opposed to just pushing my ‘map’ onto them.

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  4. Reese Evans

    Thank you very much for this beautiful post. The 3 points are really great & helpful. I appreciate your writing skills & thoughts. Great job.

    1. Andy Smith

      Thanks Reese, that’s very kind

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